Kyrie Eleison

The rumors are not true; I did not quit my blog in disgrace after finding out that I (Tess) was a Hufflepuff.  I’ve just been busy doing things like writing and conditionally passing my PhD comprehensive exams.  (Yes, I know a Ravenclaw would have gotten a high pass.)  I do plan to return to a more regular blogging frequency, and I’m sure I’ll have lots to say about my summer activities, including my upcoming trip to LeakyCon Portland!!!

Today, I wanted to give you a devotional meditation in music, but I found out that I need to upgrade to a paid version of WordPress to insert music files into my posts, and that’s a step I’m not sure I’m ready to take.  So I’m just going to give you track titles and you can look them up if you care to.

Kyrie Eleison means “Lord, have mercy” in Greek.  The phrase, along with Christe Eleison (“Christ, have mercy”), is used frequently in Christian liturgy and often set to music.  (There’s a Wikipedia article if you want all the technical details.)  This week I realized that I have five versions of the Kyrie in my iTunes library, and not a single one of them is that Mr Mister song that you’ve probably heard (though I do enjoy that song).  The five settings of the prayer that I have are radically different and illustrate the universality through time and through the world of the need to rely on God’s mercies, which, as Lamentations 3 says, are “new every morning.”  Yes, as we learned in Awana, mercy is “God not giving me the punishment I deserve,” but mercy is not just something we receive once at salvation; we need it every day.  Great is his faithfulness.

So here is a list of the five Kyries that I listen to often.  I hope you can find them and listen to them; let me know if you have any trouble.

1. Palestrina, Missa Assumpta est Maria–“Kyrie”

Palestrina was a 16th-century composer of sacred music.  This piece is for unaccompanied choir.  It’s beautiful in a vaulted-stone-church kind of way.  It reminds me of Christmas.

2. Mozart, Requiem in D Minor, K 626–“Kyrie, Kyrie”

This piece was written to be sung at rich people’s funerals, and that’s pretty much what it sounds like.  Unlike the Palestrina version, this one is orchestrated.  It’s dark, imposing, and sounds like it should be played at the climax of a dramatic film.  (Ok, so I’m not a music critic!)

3. Fernando Ortega, “Kyrie I,” from the album Come Down O Love Divine

Fernando Ortega is, hands down, my favorite “contemporary Christian” solo artist (don’t get the wrong idea from that descriptor), and I really love this 2011 album, which combines instrumental pieces, choral numbers, traditional hymns, new settings of parts of the liturgy, and even a clip from a Billy Graham sermon.  This opening track on the album features a very contemporary-sounding tune, but it’s still quiet and reverential, and it showcases Fernando’s wonderful voice and piano-playing.

4. Fernando Ortega, “Kyrie II” (same album)

On the other hand, this is a brief a capella choir piece in which Fernando’s voice isn’t heard at all (unless he’s in the choir).  Stylistically, it harks back to the Palestrina version.  It isn’t my favorite choral piece on this album (that distinction goes to the “Sanctus”), but it’s still lovely.

5. David Crowder Band, “God Have Mercy (Kyrie Eleison),” from Give Us Rest or (A Requiem Mass in C [The Happiest of All Keys])

This one was also written for a requiem, but it couldn’t possibly be any more different from the Mozart version.  It’s one of those mid-tempo but beat-driven songs that you can’t quite dance to but can sort of do a seated groove to.  As you’d expect from a Crowder Band song, it has all kinds of experimental electronic sounds, plus a few additional lyrics, but the essential prayer is still there.  I absolutely love this album, by the way; it was one of my favorites of 2012.  Don’t let the highly parenthetical title deter you.  Oh, by the way, the very next track after “God Have Mercy” is  a Johnny Cash cover.  No kidding.

Well, if you listen to any of the music, let me know what you think!

There and back again

No, this is not a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, although I will take this opportunity to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, enough to see it twice.  Look, if the ambivalent hype has made you skittish about seeing it, just remember that you’ll be in the capable hands of Peter Jackson.  Has he ever let you down before (at least when it comes to Tolkien material)?  And if you start getting cold feet during the lengthy prologue, just stick it out a bit longer, and you’ll spend the rest of the movie in the charming company of the absolutely delightful Martin Freeman.  And that’s all I have to say about that.

Actually, the title of this post is a reference to a post called “Returning” that I wrote nearly a year ago.  It was mostly about the themes of restoration and homecoming as they appear in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  I didn’t know it then, of course, but those themes in general, along with the story of the prodigal son, ended up being prominent in my mental and spiritual landscape throughout 2012.

For example, there was the David Crowder Band’s epic two-disc farewell album, Give Us Rest or (a requiem mass in c [the happiest of all keys]).  In a year that saw the release of some great albums, this was one of my favorites, not only because I love a good requiem (Mozart’s is wonderful), but also because so many of the songs are on that theme of returning, which is one way of looking at the death of a saint.  In fact, one of the songs is called “A Return,” and it mainly consists of the repeated lyric “the son has come home/we’re rejoicing.”  I usually just call it “the prodigal son song.”

Then I read Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend.  (FYI: I’ve read all of his novels now except for Barnaby Rudge, which I plan to read soon.  Perhaps a Dickens mega-review when I’m finished?)  Of the many memorable characters in that novel, the one who haunted me the longest after I finished reading was Charlie Hexam, a prodigal son who never returns.  Dickens characters usually get some sort of closure; they may come to a good end or a bad end, but the point is that they come to an end.  Charlie doesn’t.  After he formally renounces his family, he disappears into the bureaucratic machine of the Victorian educational system, and we never hear from him again.  It may be a minor plot line, but I read it as a frightening cautionary tale.

After I had been thinking about these themes for a while, I got the opportunity to teach a month of lessons in the 5th-6th grade girls’ Awana club I was volunteering in at the time.  One night, I decided to tell the story of the prodigal son and focus on the older son, who’s just as lost as his little pig-slopping brother.  Lo and behold, the issue of Christianity Today that I received that very day included a reflection on that very topic, and I was able to incorporate the author’s thoughts into my lesson.

These things may not seem like a big deal, but they provided something like mental background music for me all year.  I even wrote a little poem in October about the different types of prodigal sons.  It would be nice if I could provide examples of the way that this theme affected my life in visible ways, but I’m not sure if that happened.  Or maybe I won’t be able to see that it happened until I get some distance from 2012.

There’s a Bible verse that keeps popping into my mind because it has the word “returning” in it, but it also has four other major nouns. The verse is Isaiah 30:15, in which God, “the Holy One of Israel,” says to his people, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.”  It’s too early to say, but maybe one of those other nouns will become my theme for 2013.  I know that rest and confidence, in particular, are things I want more of, and nobody’s keeping them from me but me.

This post has been more self-reflective (you might say navel-gazing) than I usually like to be on this blog.  So let’s make this a conversation–do you ever choose or discover a theme for a given period of time in your life?  I would love to hear some of them (and possibly borrow one from you).